Mississippi Center for Justice

Supreme Court asked to review Mississippi voting rights case

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rssfeeds.clarionledger.com – Mississippi – 2022-11-01 09:42:26

JACKSON, Miss — A Mississippi legal organization is asking the to review the ’s provision permanently banning people convicted of certain felonies from .

The is petitioning the Supreme Court two months after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down its challenging voting restrictions set forth in Mississippi’s 1890 state constitution. If successful, the lawsuit could grant voting rights to thousands of people permanently banned from casting ballots as a result of felony convictions.

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U.S. Supreme Court asked to overturn felony voting ban

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U.S. Supreme Court being asked to remove last vestige of Jim Crow from state Constitution

The United States Supreme Court is being asked to find unconstitutional Mississippi’s lifetime ban on people convicted of many felonies being able to vote.

“The justices normally take about 1% of the cases they are asked to hear, but I think the odds are higher here,” said Rob McDuff, one of the attorneys who filed the case and director of the Impact Litigation Project at the . “This is an important and interesting case.

“And it deals with issues that we are still grappling with in terms of race.”

The nation’s highest court is being asked to overturn the provision of the Mississippi’s constitution that places a lifetime ban on voting in most instances on people convicted of certain felonies — crimes that the framers of the 1890 constitution said Black Mississippians were more prone to commit.

The framers did not disenfranchise people convicted of murder or rape, for instance, but did strip voting rights of people convicted of several “lesser crimes,” which the writers of the constitution falsely believed would be committed by African Americans.

The provision was one of many placed in the Jim Crow-era state constitution to keep Black people, then a majority in the state, from voting. Those other provisions, such as a poll tax and literacy tests, have been ruled unconstitutional.

But the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the felony disenfranchisement provision in a split decision in August. The entire 17-member Court heard the case, and seven judges dissented from the majority opinion.

The majority opinion upholding the lifetime ban was unsigned. Circuit Judge James Graves Jr., who before being appointed to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals was only the third African American to serve on the , wrote a blistering dissent, describing in sometimes graphic details Mississippi’s history of racial discrimination.

The office of Attorney Lynn Fitch defended the felony disenfranchisement provision before the federal judges. Even those who uphold the provision conceded that it was added to the constitution with the intent of keeping Black people from voting.

But the majority decision was based, in large part, on the fact that in 1950 the Legislature passed a proposal approved by voters to burglary as one of the disfranchising crimes. And in the 1960s, the Legislature and ultimately the voters approved a provision making murder and rape disenfranchising crimes.

Those changes, the majority found, the “racial taint” from the original 1890 language. But McDuff pointed out that those changes were made during an era of intense racial conflict and discrimination in the state. Perhaps, more importantly, the changes did not allow Mississippians to vote on whether to remove lifetime bans from voting on people convicted of other felonies.

Or as Graves wrote in his dissent, “Mississippians have simply not been given the chance to right the wrongs of its racist origins. And this court … deprives Mississippians of this opportunity by upholding an unconstitutional law enacted for the purpose of discriminating against Black Mississippians on the basis of race.”

The 5th Circuit is viewed as one of the most conservative federal courts in the nation. McDuff conceded the current makeup of the Supreme Court also is conservative, but he expressed optimism the justices would hear the case.

“Although the Supreme Court has become more conservative in recent years, we hope it will see that the continued implementation of this racist provision is an affront to the promise of the Equal Protection of the Law contained in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,”  McDuff said.  “This is another step forward in our lengthy legal battle to strike down the racially motivated provision in the Mississippi Constitution, which denies thousands of Mississippians the right to participate in our democracy.”

A decision on whether the Supreme Court will hear the Mississippi case most likely will be made sometime in the first half of 2023.

The Mississippi Center for Justice among other groups brought the on behalf of two Black Mississippians who had lost the right to vote: Roy Harness and Kamal Karriem, convicted of forgery and embezzlement, respectively.

Mississippi is one of fewer than 10 states where people convicted of felonies do not get their right to vote restored at some point after serving their sentence.

In Mississippi, people with felony convictions must petition the Legislature to get a bill passed by a two-thirds majority of both chambers to regain voting rights. Normally only a handful (less than five) of such bills are successful each session. There is also the option of the governor granting a pardon to restore voting rights, but no governor has granted pardons since Haley Barbour in 2012.

For a subset of those who lose their rights, the courts can expunge their record. In some instances that expungement includes the restoration of voting rights, while for others it does not. That outcome depends on the preference of the judge granting the expungement.

Those crimes placed in the constitution where conviction costs a person the right to vote are bribery, , arson, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, forgery, embezzlement, bigamy and burglary.

Under the original language of the constitution, a person could be convicted of cattle rustling and lose the right to vote, but those convicted of murder or rape would still be able to vote — even while incarcerated.

“Our country’s ideals of equality and freedom are swiftly undermined by Mississippi’s insidious practice of felony disenfranchisement, which is one of voter suppression’s most effective tools,” said Vangela Wade, chief executive officer of the Center for Justice. “Too many Mississippians, particularly people of color, face enormous hurdles to accessing the ballot box. We hope the will strike down this 132-year-old racist provision in the Mississippi Constitution.” 

Editor’s note: Vangela M. Wade is a member of Mississippi Today’s board of directors.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Marijuana possession: State urged to follow Biden in pardoning simple offenders

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State urged to follow Biden’s lead in pardoning simple marijuana possession offenders

Criminal justice groups in Mississippi say pardoning people for simple marijuana possession could help barriers when applying for jobs or securing housing.  

Following President Joe Biden’s announcement to pardon all federal offenses of simple marijuana possession, the is figuring out how that action could be applied locally, who it could affect and what kind of impact that action could have, said Charity Bruce, deputy director of consumer protection and public benefits. 

“Pardons of a nonviolent offense such as possession in the of Mississippi should be done,” she said. 

A pardon is a way to legally forgive someone of a and restore lost during conviction such as voting. However, a pardon doesn’t remove the offense from a person’s criminal record. That would need to be done through expungement. 

Earlier this month, when Biden announced he will pardon all federal offenses of simple marijuana possession, he encouraged governors to do the same with state offenses. 

A spokesperson for Gov. Tate Reeves did not respond to a request for comment. But at an Oct. 10 event, he called Biden’s action “a political stunt” and “a pretty naive request.” 

Biden also directed the secretary of Health and Human Services and the to review how marijuana is scheduled under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Marijuana currently is Schedule 1, which is a designation for the most dangerous substances such as heroin and LSD, but a higher classification than fentanyl and methamphetamine. 

“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” Biden said in a statement. “It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

Black and brown people have been disproportionately arrested, prosecuted and convicted for marijuana possession, he said, noting that a criminal record can put up barriers to employment, housing and educational opportunities. 

Six people have been convicted of at least one count of simple marijuana in the federal district courts in Mississippi, according to an analysis from the U.S. Sentencing Commission. This is out of thousands of people, most of whom were convicted in district courts in California and Arizona near the border with Mexico. 

As of January, tno one convicted of simple marijuana possession is in federal prison, according to the commission. 

People may be eligible for a federal pardon if their simple marijuana possession offense happened on or before Oct. 6, 2022, even if a conviction hasn’t been made by that date, according to the Office of the Pardon Attorney. 

During his three years in the governor’s office, Reeves said he hasn’t issued any pardons because it is an authority he takes seriously and would only do if convinced it is necessary. 

Reeves said he recognizes the justice system isn’t perfect and that there have been people in state prison convicted of marijuana charges, even as Mississippi has legalized

About 18 percent, or nearly 3,500 people, who are in state prison have a drug charge as their primary offense, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections in its 2021 annual report. A breakdown of drug charges is not listed. 

“(The system) is certainly not perfect and there are mistakes made, and when there are mistakes there is a (pardon) process through the executive branch to deal with it,” Reeves said.  

Through its expungement clinics around the state, the Mississippi Center for Justice has worked with people with drug possession charges and have seen how having a criminal record has impacted them. 

Employers and landlords often background checks on applicants and can see if someone has a criminal record. Even if the offense on a person’s record is nonviolent and the person is a first-time offender, a record can still be a barrier, Bruce said. 

“Being in the community and seeing how that affects people in their lives and how one mistake can derail a person or cause a person to be in a cycle of constantly finding ways to pay the fines and fees,” she said. “It can do a lot to a person mentally, physically and financially.” 

Most misdemeanors except traffic violations can be expunged. For most felonies, a person can petition to have one criminal conviction removed from their criminal record five years after completing all terms and conditions of release. 

Beyond pardons and expungement, Bruce said other states are introducing efforts that could help people who have a criminal record. Some states are introducing legislation to seal a person’s record, which could give some the opportunity to apply for jobs and housing and not have their record be the first thing the person reading their application sees. 

“It can help the person get a foot in the door before they are placed in the box,” she said. 

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

AG opinion spurs questions about voting for incarcerated Mississippians

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New attorney general’s opinion spurs questions about voting rights for incarcerated Mississippians

A Mississippi ’s opinion last month on absentee has thrown into confusion the voting rights of individuals in jail.

The Sept. 29 opinion addressed the question of whether qualified electors held in the county of their residence in jail can select disability on their absentee ballot, saying disability and other reasons for voting absentee are decided on a case-by-case basis by local election officials.

The absentee ballot application requires the person check a box stating the reason for voting absentee. Incarcerated individuals have typically checked disabled.

However, the opinion didn’t provide clarity about incarcerated individuals’ access to voting, said Jarrius Adams, a research associate for Mississippi Votes.

Mississippi residents can vote if they are in a county jail awaiting trial or serving time in prison, and they are able to exercise that right through absentee mail-in ballots, voting advocates say. 

Many people think any interaction with the criminal justice system makes them ineligible to vote, but that isn’t true, Adams said. People who are convicted of most felonies, misdemeanors, out-of-state convictions or federal convictions don’t lose their right to vote. 

The opinion did go on to say: “We do note that a qualified elector who is otherwise eligible to vote does not lose the right to vote because he or she is being detained.” 

Adams said guidance from the secretary of state’s office for circuit clerks who manage voter registration is if someone hasn’t been convicted, they can say their reason for voting absentee is because they temporarily live outside of their place of residence. 

The secretary of state’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.  

Mississippi Votes aims to educate people about their voting rights and combat rhetoric that can discourage incarcerated people from voting, he said. 

“Folks should be able to exercise their right to vote,” he said.

Absentee voting by mail is the main way incarcerated people are able to vote. Once determining they are eligible to vote and register, an incarcerated person can request an absentee ballot from their county circuit clerk’s office by mail. 

Voting groups including Mississippi Votes visit jails and prisons throughout the year to get people registered to vote and help fill out voting materials. 

Adams said the organization can provide sample ballots, information about voting procedure and help people notarize documents. 

“We do it like we do with anyone else,” he said. “The only thing we don’t do is tell them who to vote for. We encourage them to vote up and down the ballot. Their opinion matters.” 

Representatives from Mississippi Votes, the , the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Mississippi Center for Re-Entry visited women at the Flowood Community Work Center last month. The work center is by the Mississippi Department of Corrections and is for people who are close to release. 

Cynetra Freeman, founder of the Center for Re-Entry and a formerly incarcerated person, said the visit was the first of several planned visits to facilities around the state. 

So far, voter advocates on the tour have helped educate 200 incarcerated people, she said, and 35 people have registered to vote. 

“It was a great response,” Freeman said. “Everyone was engaged and everyone wanted to learn if they could register to vote.”

Once people leave incarceration, there can also be challenges to being able to vote. 

A form of picture identification such as a driver’s license or passport is required to be able to vote in Mississippi. Obtaining a driver’s license requires a certified birth certificate and Social Security card – documentation that can be difficult for a formerly incarcerated person to gather, Freeman said. 

She said the center is working with local Social Security offices and the Office of Vital Records to help people use their prison license as a form of identification to obtain their birth certificate, which can be used to get a Social Security card and driver’s license. 

While most incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people don’t lose their right to vote, those who are convicted of 22 designated crimes in Mississippi lose suffrage. 

Among the disenfranchising crimes are nonviolent offenses such as timber larceny, issuing a bad check and receiving stolen property. Murder, rape and armed robbery were added later in 1968. 

Eleven percent of the state’s population is unable to vote because they were convicted of a disenfranchising crime, Adams said. That’s about 236,000 people and 62% of those people are Black. 

Framers of the 1890 Constitution placed a lifetime voting ban for those crimes because they believed Black were more prone to commit them. That provision has been challenged in court for having discriminatory intent, but in August the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld it, saying “the racial taint” had been

A person convicted of a disenfranchising crime can regain the right to vote through a bill passed through the Legislature or an executive order or pardon by the governor. 

“That’s a lot of people who can decide whether a person gets the right back,” Adams said, adding that the process can be hard to start if you don’t know your state lawmakers who would have to file a bill on your behalf. 

Between 2007 and 2017, the considered 128 suffrage applications and 45 people had their voting rights restored, according to a 2021 report about felony disenfranchisement by Mississippi Votes and One Voice. 

During the recent legislative session, five people had their rights restored because their suffrage bills became law without the governor’s signature. 

Multiple groups including Mississippi Votes, the ACLU of Mississippi, the Mississippi Center for Justice and the Southern Poverty Law Center help people with voting rights restoration and have information online about the process and ways to contact staff to help. 

“Our votes matter, too,” Freeman said. “It matters just as much as someone who has never been involved in the criminal justice system.” 

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

U.S. senators quiet on Scott Colom’s nomination to federal bench

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U.S. senators quiet on Scott Colom’s nomination to federal bench

Scott Colom

Mississippi’s two U.S. senators have been non-committal on whether they will support Lowndes County District Attorney Scott Colom’s nomination as a federal judge.

The White House has announced Colom’s nomination to the U.S. District Court to fill the spot vacated by Michael Mills, who has taken senior status. The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal first reported the nomination by .

The objection to Colom by the ’s two U.S. senators could doom his nomination under long-standing Senate traditions.

In an emailed response to Mississippi Today, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker said, “Judge Michael Mills has left big shoes to fill. I look forward to speaking with District Attorney Colom about his nomination for this important vacancy.”

Mississippi’s junior U.S. senator, Cindy Hyde-Smith, has not publicly commented on the nomination.

Appointments to the federal judiciary, a lifetime appointment, require Senate confirmation.

It is customary for an individual senator from the home state of the judicial nominee to be able to block the Senate nomination through a so-called “blue-slip process.” It is uncertain whether Hyde-Smith or Wicker, both Republicans, would blue-slip Colom, who was appointed by the Democratic Biden.

Colom, a Columbus resident, has been the district attorney for the 16th Judicial District, which consists of Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Noxubee and Clay counties, since 2016. He previously worked for the and was a municipal court judge.

The other northern district judges are Debra Brown and Sharion Aycock. When appointed by former , Brown became the state’s first female African American chief federal judge. Colom would become the second Black judge in the state’s Northern District if he is confirmed.

Biden has yet to announce his nomination for U.S. attorney for the northern district of Mississippi. In September, Biden nominated Todd Gee to serve as U.S. attorney for the southern district of Mississippi, a post that has been vacant since appointee Mike Hurst resigned in January 2021.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Judge rules public funds to private schools is unconstitutional

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Judge rules public funds to private schools is unconstitutional

A judge ruled on Thursday that the giving $10 million in pandemic relief funds to private schools for infrastructure improvements is unconstitutional.

The passed the bills appropriating this money at the end of the 2022 session in early April, a move that frustrated some advocates and legislators. The funding comes from the (ARPA), which gave the Mississippi Legislature $1.8 billion to spend on pandemic response, government services, and infrastructure improvements to water, sewer, and broadband. 

The was filed by The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Democracy Forward, and the on behalf of Parents for , a Jackson-based national nonprofit. Attorneys from these three parties argued that Section 208 of the Mississippi Constitution prohibits allocating any public funds for private schools, making the money allocated earlier this year unconstitutional. They asked the court to block the state from enforcing the law. 

Section 208, the portion of the Mississippi Constitution in question, reads in its entirety: 

“No religious or other sect or sects shall ever control any part of the school or other educational funds of this state; nor shall any funds be appropriated toward the support of any sectarian school, or to any school that at the time of receiving such appropriation is not conducted as a free school.” 

READ MORE: Lawmakers spent public money on private schools. Does it violate the Mississippi Constitution?

At the Aug. 23 hearing, attorneys for the state argued that because the Legislature appropriated the money to the Department of Finance and Administration to a grant program for private schools, instead of directly to those private schools, these laws did not violate the state constitution. 

The decision from Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Crystal Wise Martin clearly rebukes this argument, pointing out that Section 208 does not specifically name the legislature and that the prohibition on allocating public money to private schools is not limited to any specific government body. 

“The state cannot avoid compliance with our Constitution simply by delegating the power to disburse appropriated funds to an executive agency,” the order reads. 

Joann Mickens, the executive director of Parents for Public Schools, testified at the hearing that any public money spent on private schools hurts public school students due to the historic underfunding of public schools. 

Martin incorporated this argument into the order, pointing to the recent infrastructure issues facing the Jackson Public School District as a symptom of that underfunding. She also referenced the competition between private and public schools, and its subsequent impact on public school enrollment and funding, when granting a permanent injunction in the case, prohibiting the state from dispersing the $10 million. 

The attorney general’s office did not indicate whether they would appeal this decision, with a spokesperson for the agency saying that they are “still evaluating the State’s next steps.”

When asked about a possible appeal by the state, Will Bardwell, an attorney with Democracy Forward, said that he hopes they will let the case rest but are prepared to fight if necessary. 

“The Mississippi Legislature has a long, sad history of undermining public schools,” Bardwell said. “I would like to believe that the attorney general would allow this chapter to end here and now, but that’s up to her. If they go forward, we will fight them every step of the way.”

Bardwell also added that this victory is broader than the specific circumstances of the case. 

“This case is about more than $10 million dollars in infrastructure grants,” he said. “The constitution says that no public money can be appropriated to private schools, and if courts can make an exception for $10 million dollars, then they can make an exception for anything. Judge Martin’s decision made clear that there are no exceptions in the constitution.” 

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Jackson: City settles in JPD roadblock lawsuit, agrees to federal oversight

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City settles in JPD roadblock lawsuit, agrees to federal oversight

The City of Jackson has agreed to federal oversight of its roadblock policy in a settlement announced this week. 

The over the roadblock policy was filed in February by the (MCJ) and the MacArthur Justice Center, and has been in settlement negotiations since early March. 

The Jackson Department calls the roadblock policy “Ticket Arrest Tow.” It is used around the city to check if drivers have valid licenses, insurance and registration. Police officials say the roadblocks also allow officers to see if a driver has an active warrant.

Under the terms of the settlement, roadblocks will be required to be evenly distributed across Jackson, may not be used for general control, and may only be implemented in specific circumstances relating to alcohol and drug consumption or high rates of car crashes. It also requires the Jackson Police Department to record and report data regarding its use of roadblocks and to distribute know-your-rights flyers at each checkpoint. 

The federal court enforcement of this settlement will continue for the next four years. 

Between Jan. 4 to March 18, Jackson police officers made 208 arrests – 10 for felonies, 198 for misdemeanors – from its roadblocks, according to information obtained through a public records request shared with MCJ. 

During that period, Jackson police officers also issued 1,149 citations and towed 186 vehicles. 

Members of the Mississippi Alliance for Public Safety, who reached out to MCJ about the roadblock issues, spoke with over 80 people in South and West Jackson, where they said they’d heard most of the roadblocks were occurring, and found many had negative experiences.

People said they felt inconvenienced and unable to move in and out of their communities. Alliance members heard a story about a mother who walked home with her children in the rain because her car was towed after going through a checkpoint. 

Timothy Halcomb, expresses his gratitude regarding the outcome of a class action lawsuit calling for an overhaul of JPD’s “Ticket, Arrest and Tow” (TAT) program, during a press conference held Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, in Jackson’s Smith Park. the press conference.

Timothy Halcomb, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said he got involved after his experience with a roadblock in his community in South Jackson.

‘We live in a poor neighborhood, but that doesn’t make us criminals,” Halcomb said at a press conference Friday. “Why are they doing this to us?” 

READ MORE: JPD roadblock lawsuit: Plaintiffs, city in settlement negotiations

Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center, said he believes this policy was borne out of concern about violent crime, but police officers address the problem by focusing their efforts on minor crimes.

“One thing I would urge the residents of Jackson to think about is, when we demand action from the police, we need to be careful what we ask for because we just might get it,” Johnson said. 

Johnson offered compliments to the city on its handling of the lawsuit for their willingness to negotiate, and in doing so, for saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation fees. 

The legal team said their goal was to have roadblocks completely eliminated, citing a body of evidence that roadblocks disproportionately impact poorer residents and do not meaningfully reduce crime. While this goal was not achieved, they said the settlement reduces harm to residents and they will continue to monitor Jackson’s adherence to it. 

“While we continue to hold Jackson accountable for violations just as we would any other police department across the , we do so because we want this capital city to be great, we believe that it can be,” Johnson said. “I believe that the settlement we’ve announced today, and the people who’ve put it together in the way they have, is really good that we are moving in the right direction.” 

Paloma Wu, MCJ’s deputy director of impact litigation, said they also have evidence that roadblock policies are a problem across the state, one she intends to continue pursuing. 

“(Roadblocks) waste precious police resources needed for responding to violent crime, and make poor residents poorer without making them safer,” Wu said. 

Editor’s note: Vangela M. Wade, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice, is a member of Mississippi Today’s board of directors.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Powerful writing on racism could inspire SCOTUS to hear Mississippi case

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This judge’s powerful writing on racism could inspire U.S. Supreme Court to hear Mississippi case

Editor’s note: This story contains graphic language. Also, you can read Judge James Graves’ complete dissent at the bottom of this story.

A dissent written by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge James Graves Jr. could play a key role in determining whether the will hear an appeal of a case that has, so far, upheld Mississippi’s Jim Crow-era constitutional provision written to keep Black people from .

Last month, the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a Mississippi constitutional provision that bans people convicted of certain felonies from voting. White leaders in Mississippi included most of those specific felonies in the ’s 1890 Constitution because they thought those crimes were more likely to be committed by African Americans.

Though attorneys challenging the provision in court say it has continued to disenfranchise Black Mississippians, a majority of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals did not agree. Following the appeals court’s ruling, plaintiff attorneys said they plan to appeal the lower court’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. They have 90 days from the final verdict that was issued on Aug. 24 the file the appeal.

Graves, a Black man from Mississippi who was appointed to the federal appeals court in 2010, wrote a 47-page dissent that outlines the state’s long and disturbing history of racism and its impact on America.

Rob McDuff, an attorney with the who is working on the case, said Graves’ dissent could increase the odds the Supreme Court will take up the case.

“A strong dissent like that of Justice Graves’ can highlight for the Supreme Court that this is an important case where the Court of Appeals is sharply divided,” said McDuff, who has argued four cases before the nation’s highest court. “This increases the chances the Supreme Court will take the case although it’s no guarantee.”

READ MORE: 5th Circuit upholds Jim Crow-era law written to keep Black Mississippians from voting

A majority of the 17 members of the Court of Appeals that heard the case acknowledged that the felony suffrage provision, like many in the 1890 Constitution, was intended to prevent African Americans, then a majority in the state, from voting. That reality would be difficult to deny.

“The plan is to invest permanently the powers of government in the hands of the people who ought to have them: the white people,” James Zachariah George, a U.S. senator who was one of the architects of the 1890 Constitution and to this day has a statue in the U.S. Capitol representing Mississippi, said at the time.

But the nine members of the court who made up the majority in the recent ruling said that when state lawmakers added murder and rape as disenfranchising crimes in 1968, “the racial taint” was because the original 1890 language crafted by George and others had been amended.

“The critical issue here is not the intent behind Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution, but whether the reenactment of Section 241 (the felony disenfranchisement language) in 1968 was free of intentional racial discrimination,” the nine-member majority wrote.

The majority concluded it was.

“Mississippi (represented by the office of Lynn Fitch) has conclusively shown that any taint associated with Section 241 has been cured,” the majority wrote last month in an unsigned opinion.

But in his blistering dissent, Graves methodically wrote that the racial taint had not at all been removed by state lawmakers in the 1960s.

He pointed out that the Legislature did not reenact Section 241 in 1968; it simply passed a provision to include murder and rape as disenfranchising crimes. Section 241 would have remained in effect regardless of whether the amendment adding murder and rape was approved by voters.

And perhaps more importantly, Graves pointed out many of the people in the Legislature and indeed the electorate as a whole at that time had been engaged in preventing Black Mississippians from voting and from integrating schools and society. Many of those same people had been engaged in violence against African Americans.

Graves cited Tom Brady, a member of the in 1968. Graves pointed out Brady wrote in a book that was available in many Mississippi schools: “You can dress a chimpanzee, housebreak him, and teach him to use a knife and fork, but it will take countless generations of evolutionary development, if ever, before you can convince him that a caterpillar or cockroach is not a delicacy. Likewise the social, economic and religious preferences of the Negro remain close to the caterpillar and the cockroach.”

Graves, in his dissent, also pointed out that in the mid 20the Century while Mississippi lawmakers were removing a racial taint from its state Constitution, according to the majority ruling, white South African leaders were traveling to Mississippi “to learn how best to keep their own Black population disempowered and impoverished in perpetuity,” and earlier Nazi leader Adolph Hitler proclaimed the goal of making a conquered region “our Mississippi.”

Graves cited a passage from a 1960s newspaper article detailing efforts during school desegregation when Mississippians were, according to the Court’s majority opinion, removing the racial taint from the felony suffrage provision of the 1890 Constitution.

“Some husky young men were whipping a little Negro girl with pigtails,” the reporter wrote. “She was running. The men chased after her, whooping and leaping up and down like animals.”

The dissent was filled with such reports of violence and of loss of life for African Americans.

Graves, a Clinton native, was one of the first African American circuit judges in the state – appointed to the post in 1991 by then-Gov. Ray Mabus. In 2001, he was appointed to the state Supreme Court by then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. President Barack Obama appointed him to a slot on the federal Court of Appeals in 2010.

Graves, in his dissent, recalled his own upbringing and life in Mississippi.

“Recounting Mississippi’s history forces me to relive my experiences growing up in the Jim Crow era,” he wrote. “While I do not rely on those experiences in deciding this case, I would be less than candid if I did not admit that I recall them. Vividly.

“So I confess that I remember in 1963 a cross that was burned on my grandmother’s lawn two doors down from where I grew up,” he wrote.

Graves goes on to recount his experiences with school desegregation, and his disdain after being appointed to the judiciary of having to serve under the state that contained the battle emblem as part of its design.

Graves also highlights actions in 2020 by the Legislature to replace the flag. But after that historic achievement, he pointed out Mississippi to this day is the only state to recognize a Confederate Heritage Month, and while other states recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Mississippi honors Confederate General Robert E. Lee on the same day.

“I recount these events, as a native Mississippian, only to highlight the importance of making the right decision in this case,” Graves wrote.

Read Judge Graves’ complete dissent below. His dissent begins on page 36.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Judge denies state auditor’s motion to dismiss defamation case by Ole Miss professor

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Judge denies state auditor’s motion to dismiss defamation case by Ole Miss professor

A Circuit Court judge has denied Auditor Shad White’s motion to dismiss a defamation brought by University of Mississippi Professor James

In his January 2021 motion, White alleged he could not be sued for defamation for allegations he made that Thomas, by participating in a two-day event called a “Scholar Strike,” violated state law prohibiting public employees from striking. 

White argued that as a state executive officer, he is entitled to a legal doctrine known as “absolute immunity” – the complete protection from liability for actions committed in the course of his official duties – even though he acknowledged no Mississippi court has considered the issue. 

Judge E. Faye Peterson was not persuaded, writing that Mississippi law is clear state officers have “no absolute privilege for any and all comments,” only those made during legislative, judicial and military proceedings. 

“Hence, Shad White is not entitled to absolute immunity for any and all statements which he makes as a state governmental official,” Peterson wrote in a Sept. 2 order. “That blanket theory of immunity has not been recognized by our courts, nor does it comport with the laws of this state.” 

Peterson added that “to the continued detriment” of White’s defense, Mississippi courts have found that immunity does not extend “to fraud, malice, libel, slander, defamation or any criminal offense.” 

Peterson declined to issue a declaratory judgment just yet on whether or not Thomas’ participation in the Scholar Strike actually violated state law – a key argument in his case for defamation.

Fletcher Freeman, a spokesperson for the state auditor’s office, said White and his counsel from the Mississippi ’s office will “continue defense against this case.” 

“Auditor White absolutely has a right to tell people when they misspend money, which is what Thomas’ lawsuit is about,” Freeman wrote in an email. 

The lawsuit filed in December 2020 centers on White’s claims that Thomas participated in an “illegal” work stoppage on Sept. 8 and Sept. 9, 2020, and thus violated state law. White sent Thomas a letter demanding he repay $1,912 – his salary and interest – for the two days and another letter asking the University of Mississippi chancellor to consider termination. 

READ MORE: Auditor Shad White says a professor broke state law. The professor is now suing White for defamation.

Thomas’ initial complaint alleged this was defamation in part because it was false of White to claim that the Scholar Strike was illegal.

According to state code, a strike is an action taken “for the purpose of inducing, influencing or coercing a change in the conditions, compensation, rights, privileges or obligations of public employment.” 

Thomas’ participation in the Scholar Strike was intended to highlight racism and injustice in the United States, not to change his working conditions, according to the initial complaint. 

“Shad White falsely claimed that Professor Thomas violated the law against public employee strikes when it was clear to anyone who could read that he didn’t,” said Rob McDuff, an attorney with the who is representing Thomas. 

White’s motion to dismiss argued that a declaratory judgment would be improper because “there are no ongoing legal relations between the parties to be clarified or settled.” Furthermore, it would “set a precedent inimical to the orderly and efficient disposition of Auditor demands.” 

“This will effectively create a need for expedited review (and potential defense) by the Attorney General of all Auditor demands referred for non-payment, regardless of whether the Attorney General may otherwise have ultimately elected not to pursue a given claim—an inefficient use of State resources,” the motion states. 

Thomas’ lawsuit does not ask for a set amount of monetary damages and says a jury should decide in the event White is found liable. 

“If the jury says he should pay one dollar, that is fine,” the complaint says. “If the jury orders payment of more money, that is fine too.” 

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Court: Mississippi can continue blocking felons from voting

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www.wxxv25.com – Associated Press – 2022-08-25 09:35:03

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — People convicted of certain felonies in Mississippi still won’t be able to vote, as a that sought to automatically reinstate their rights was struck down by a federal appeals court Wednesday.

Attorneys who challenged the provision had argued the authors of the ’s 1890 constitution showed racist intent when they chose which felonies would cause people to lose the right to vote, picking crimes they thought were more likely to be committed by Black people.

The brought the…

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